Good and evil, light and dark, black and white, right and wrong. Try to spot the common idea of all these pairs. If you can’t, then let me tell you, it’s simple. It's easy. And no, I’m not saying finding the idea is easy; I’m saying that’s what the idea actually is: simplicity. These pairs are as simple as a yes or no question; all you have to do is pick a side. That idea is ridiculously awesome, always knowing which side to pick, never having to second-guess yourself because the obvious answer is right in your face. That’s amazing! Or at least it would be, if the world were really like that. Unfortunately, we live in a world where people pick the lesser of two evils, forgetting they’re still picking evil. In our world, nothing is ever black and white; all of it is gray, and the concept of right versus wrong has never been more complicated than now.
What is "right" and what is "wrong?" If you look up these terms in a dictionary it will tell you "right" is “In conformity with fact, reason, truth, or some standard or principal.” The term "wrong" is defined as “Not correct in action, judgement, opinion, or method. Not in accordance with what is morally right or good.” This is how the terms "right" and "wrong" are defined from a standard perspective, but a person’s own moral code is defined by what they believe. In the spectrum of what society believes is morally right, the accomplishments achieved by Martin Luther King Jr. for the black community by displaying his nonviolent ways of brotherhood and equality was right and just to him, as well as many others. However, Malcolm X thought he was doing the right thing as well when he was encouraging the black community to fight violence with violence. Society now deems his methods wrong and his message right, but he, as well as the people following him, thought he was right on both accounts. So if both of these men thought they were doing the right thing, who was wrong? Or were they both right? But if they were both right, why do we celebrate one and not the other?
The truth of the matter is, there's no cut-and-dry version of right and wrong; most people in our society go by what is morally acceptable to them. In other words, they follow their own moral compass, which is to say that every individual has their own definition of right and wrong. The morals people have for themselves can change over the course of time; as a person gets older it’s assumed that they get wiser as well. A teenager might have different morals than an adult, or maybe they have the same, but with their own unique variation. Sitting in the library watching the people bustle about, gather books, or sit at computers, I had the pleasure of interviewing Andrew Wattier. As he sat in the chair, his sandy blonde curls bouncing around his head, his cheery demeanor changed before my eyes.
“My definition of right and wrong? Well, if something is right then it will work with my conscience. If something is wrong then it goes against your personal beliefs; it doesn't benefit you or the people around you. It’s your moral compass,” Wattier said as he waved his hands around to make his point. His way of defining what’s right and wrong is in line with the standard definition given by a dictionary. Many people uphold a standard similar to this, but tend to have multiple variations. When I interviewed Emily Lefstad, sophomore biology teacher at the International School of Communications, to see her viewpoint, she responded by saying that, “Right is usually not self-centered while wrong tends to revolve around being self-centered. Doing ‘right’ typically enforces a positive self-concept while ‘wrong’ leads to guilty feelings."
Every person has their own variation of right and wrong, because of these multiple variations, everyone comes to a crossroads in their life when they start to question themselves on issues that have defined their whole existence. They begin to wonder if what they believe is what they should believe. You may begin to question yourself as soon as you make a decision. Other times it may happen after the deed is done, but as the world changes, so too do our opinions and views on the world. As Lefstad so eloquently puts it, “As we grow up, our brains develop different capacities for abstract thought, which allows us to see the world and those in it from different perspectives. The world is black and white when you’re a child, but many shades of gray develop as we age.” Growing up, your parents teach you what’s right and wrong based on their own life experience, and as children we will take it at face value for an extended period of our lives until we gain our own understanding. As a child it’s easy to pick a side and just do what your parents do, but it’s not until you become older and notice things for yourself that you begin to see the world you knew change into something you have to relearn from a new perspective.
As the world changes, the people in the world grow and change; the morals they value will develop into something new. With this change in moral development comes boundaries -- laws. With everyone’s definition of right and wrong, it’s only expected that different cultures have what they hold to be right or wrong as well. So with the government standards of right and wrong versus every individual’s variation of right and wrong, laws are put in place so that every person recognizes a line that is not to be crossed. But what happens when our leaders have a broken moral compass; do we just stop following? What happens when someone goes against a corrupted law, does that make them wrong -- or does it make them right? Where would the age-old saying, “Rules are meant to be broken,” come into play here? Or would that saying even apply? Were we supposed to break the rules? What does that saying even mean to most people? “It's like YOLO,” Wattier said rather seriously. I looked across the table and smiled at him, thinking to myself, surely he was kidding. But then, reading my questioning glance he replied, “Wait, no, hear me out, people use it to drink and party, but it should be used to better yourself instead, I think. Most laws exist because they are necessary.” Lefstad observes: “They’re not ‘meant to be broken,’ but if the rule is unjust or immoral, it may be necessary to break it in order to eventually eliminate it. Think Rosa Parks.”
Segregation and slavery were rules that needed to be broken because they were “unjust” and “immoral.” Breaking a law for your own self-gain crosses from right and wrong into what's good and what's bad. “When you do anything to hurt someone it becomes about self-ego and then your morals become skewed,” said college student Jascha James during an interview. “Good is in line with the truth...you look for the truth and deal with yourself in godly counsel.” When tough decisions are tossed your way and you question what to do, the best thing to do, the only thing to do is to follow your own moral compass in the right direction. The code Mrs. Lefstad uses is called “The Golden Rule,” or do unto others as you would have them do unto you. If more people lived by that, the world would be a much more peaceful place.
It’s difficult to navigate in this world, but if we remember to “Listen to our spirit and pay attention to common sense. Then we should know the difference between what's good and what's bad,” Jascha advised. The world we live in is not black and white, but multiple shades of gray. So if we follow our hearts in the right direction, our moral compass will always point True North.